The United States and the Netherlands are two of the world’s largest exporters of horticultural products. Despite the fact that large amounts of food are grown, there are also challenges for the future. In order to continue to sustainably feed the world, the Netherlands plans to export solutions (seeds, knowledge and technology) in addition to fruits and vegetables. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting disruption of food supply chains have further underscored the importance of local culture.
On the initiative of NL Works, the government of Kentucky and the American producer AppHarvest, in 2020 set up a public-private partnership which is now called Let’s Grow Together. They want to develop Kentucky as a top player in the AgTech sector. The recent announcement of new partners and the June 2022 mission are important first steps towards achieving this goal, according to Agrobericht Buitenland.
From coal mining to vegetable growing
As Americans burn less coal, coal mining in the state of Kentucky has all but collapsed, leaving many miners out of work. The local tobacco sector has suffered the same fate and employees in this sector are also experiencing difficulties. The US-Dutch partnership Let’s Grow Together aims to change that. Together, these partners aim to develop a sustainable food production system that will not only create jobs for Kentucky’s many unemployed workers, but also provide millions of Americans with fresh, affordable food.
Kentucky has many strengths. This state is located within a day’s drive of many major US cities, including New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. Tomatoes picked in Kentucky in the morning are already on the shelves the next day, ensuring a fresher, healthier product and less food waste. While other states have recently been hit by drought, Kentucky has seen more rainfall than ever before. Add to this the favorable business climate and the wealth of economical natural energy sources and you will understand why AppHarvest and its American and Dutch partners believe that Kentucky is the ideal location for the development of a greenhouse and a center. AgTech.
Large greenhouse complex as an example
AgTech, or “agricultural technology”, according to the initiators, is “an extremely innovative sector” which aims to transform the agricultural and horticultural sector. AgTech solutions cover cultivation, water management and high-tech greenhouses, among others. The collaboration between Kentucky and the Netherlands goes beyond simply exchanging technological knowledge. The consortium plans to create an entirely new ecosystem consisting of greenhouses, sustainable cultivation methods, processing facilities, training and knowledge centers. They involved the Kentucky government, the Dutch government, private companies and a university to make this possible.
To kick off the project, AppHarvest has already built the first of perhaps many greenhouses and facilities. The 24-hectare Morehead facility was built by Dutch greenhouse builder Dalsem, with mostly Dutch technology supplied by companies such as Signify and Priva. The Dalsem greenhouse is equipped with innovative technology for economical cultivation with a high yield per square meter.
Three other facilities are currently under development. All of these cultivation facilities are based on Dutch technology and know-how and are part of the long-term action plan for the Appalachian region. Together, the consortium aims to establish the training and knowledge infrastructure necessary to develop a sustainable horticultural ecosystem, from raising capital to building greenhouses and developing logistics and retail solutions. By offering customized technology solutions to growers large and small, a wave is created that everyone can benefit from. The partnership covers all facets of horticulture, and also includes trade, knowledge exchange, education and cooperation between governments.
Let’s Grow Together plans to expand the partnership by attracting new local and Dutch partners. Recently, nine new members joined the consortium. One of them is a vertical farm (32.4 acres) which has announced the opening of a new business in Kentucky.
Train a new generation of horticultural specialists
Soon greenhouse horticulture and AgTech enthusiasts will also have a place to meet, as the Kentucky government plans to establish a local Horti Center, modeled after the World Horti Center in the Netherlands. This idea is part of a 100 million dollar (95 million euro) grant application, which should enable the development of a knowledge-based Dutch AgTech ecosystem. The proposal can count on the support of the Dutch government and is based on various Dutch studies. In the local Horti center, growers, students, governments and partners can exchange knowledge and expertise and inspire a new generation of growers. Here they can learn first-hand about the technology, ask questions, get advice and take training courses.
To encourage young Kentucky residents to consider a career in horticulture and adopt a healthy lifestyle, AppHarvest has developed a high school curriculum that emphasizes the importance of healthy eating and the basics of cultivation of vegetables. Universities are also investing in new AgTech courses, so Kentucky can become the hub for a new generation of job-secure horticulture specialists.
American-Dutch Agricultural Cooperation
Kentucky’s joint development into an AgTech center is one of many collaborations between the United States and the Netherlands in agriculture. There has been an overall increase in the demand for greenhouses and sustainable growing systems in the Midwest region. Two major projects were also launched recently in Ohio and Illinois, while concrete plans are underway for projects in Minnesota and Washington to accelerate the development of innovative food technologies to reduce food waste, as well as digitization, precision horticulture and the application of making robots possible.
For more information:
Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality
“Devoted bacon guru. Award-winning explorer. Internet junkie. Web lover.”